Successful Member Assimilation
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Jesus could have been talking about a dilemma faced by many churches today: member assimilation, or how to turn visitors into members and members into active workers in God s field. Many churches see their membership shrinking or remaining static. Others are growing in numbers only, not in service. But many churches have found the secret to member assimilation, energizing new and established members alike.
Tipp City, Ohio, is the home of a real dynamo, Ginghamsburg Church. The Rev. Mike Slaughter and his wife, Carolyn, have transformed the new member orientation process, resulting in a curriculum called A Follower’s Life, published by Group Publishing. The class leads to a commitment to practices expected of a member practices that facilitate their spiritual growth and ongoing connection with the church, such as faithful attendance at worship, active participation in a small cell group, use of spiritual gifts in serving, and commitment to the financial support of the church, Carolyn Slaughter explains. The thumbprint of Ginghamsburg is service and the personal care we give each new member is part of what makes this process a success.
An assimilation team follows up to make sure each new convert is connected to a cell group and ministry area. Involvement in cell groups is at 60%, with 72% active in worship service. More than numbers, the impact on new members says it all. I was afraid of looking spiritually dumb when I first came to the A Follower’s Life class, says one recent graduate. Instead I was encouraged to grow spiritually from where I was as an individual. Now I’m helping to facilitate the classes!
New Life Church, in Malden Massachusetts seats 300. Several years ago, attendance was in the single digits. Then the Rev. Don Oduor turned things around. He took advantage of existing materials and began thinking about membership as a journey traveled by pilgrims. Oduor established the Exploring Member Class that has three parts: a study on baptism, a Bible study and the Creating a Church Home program from Cokesbury. The pilgrim’s journey never ends, Oduor explains. Each new member is invited to join our Disciple Bible Study and paired with a sponsor who helps them connect with the church.
Membership has grown to 206 and Worship attendance is up more than 300%. More importantly, the new members are involved. Several are now on councils, committees or teach Sunday school. Part of what makes the program successful is conveying our expectations of church members and listening to what their expectations are of the church, Oduor says.
He also explored the needs of his community and discovered an underserved Brazilian population. For three years now, NLC has been shared by a Brazilian congregation of about 50 and their pastors. The church offers separate services, in English and Portuguese, but comes together once a month for shared services and annually for a picnic and Christmas Eve service. One participant observed, It shows that even though we are different, God teaches all nations.
The Flock That Rocks, is Heartsong Church, near Memphis, a six-year-young church, with a dynamic pastor, an energized flock, and no members. Pastor Steve Stone explains, We dropped the term member when we learned that people were thinking in terms of joining an organization, instead of the biblical meaning of becoming part of a living organism. Heartsong’s strength is reaching out to the unchurched of the community and making them part of the living organism of the church. They connect to visitors through welcome cards and a series of post cards and phone calls that follow-up after first, second and third visits.
Attendees are allowed to choose their own level of involvement, culminating in the partner level, sharing in the Partnership Covenant, that focuses on commitment to Christ, to the mission of the church, participation and stewardship. Partnership is for those who feel called to get shoulder-to-shoulder with us in this rescue mission for Christ, says Stone. All partners join a LIFE (Living In Faith Every Day) group or a service team. Anyone can serve on a team from the first day they visit. Ultimately, that might be Heartsong’s greatest gift, a welcoming attitude. As one Heartsong faithful explains, It’s an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance. Just jump right in and be one of the family!
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes ‘Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.’
This article ‘Successful Member Assimilation’ by Gregg Tubbs was excerpted from: www.umc.org web site. May 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.